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Sealing Records Necessary in Iowa

IOWA CITY, Iowa (CBS2/FOX28) -- Iowa is one of only six states in the nation where juvenile criminal records are made public, and the records do not simply disappear when a person turns 18.

On Friday, attorneys and judges in Johnson County worked to try to clear some of those records with a day-long record sealing event.

One man, who did not want to be identified, showed up to have his record sealed because he said he had been having trouble finding a job for years. He thinks employers were denying him jobs because of something he did as a teenager. That is exactly what county officials are hoping to prevent.

"It would be unfortunate if those mistakes followed us throughout our lifetime. It would be a lifetime punishment," said county social services coordinator Lynette Jacoby.

"So you really want to give them, kind of, a fresh start once they turn 18, and make sure they can go on and achieve all they want in life," said county attorney Janet Lyness.

Because without sealing those juvenile records, schools and employers can still find them -- and do it easily through Iowa Courts Online.

"Which really puts young Iowans at a disadvantage when they're seeking employment opportunities and competing against young adults from neighboring states or across the U.S.," Jacoby said.

It is something many people don't know about, Jacoby said. Last year, more than 600 juvenile charges were filed in Johnson county, and only 10 to 12 adults had their records sealed, creating a large gap in people with charges hanging over them.

"Moving forward, we want people to be able to succeed and have opportunities and not have those silly juvenile mistakes follow them forever," Jacoby said.

But the issue doesn't end there.

Even if someone has his or her records sealed, online public record companies that make money off of selling people's information might not update their databases, and those criminal records can still be out there.

"Our laws have not kept up with the advent of the internet," Jacoby said.

So, while Lyness still wants people to seal their records now, she and Jacoby are hoping to change Iowa state law to keep people from being discriminated against in the future.

"And not having this hold them back, or that fear that it's going to hold them back from trying new things," Lyness said.

While Lyness is hoping to make this an annual event, she said people don't need to wait for next year. Anyone can have his or her records sealed on any day, though people need to do it in the county where the charges were filed.
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